Howard and I were friends, too, though we rarely saw each other. He had a sister, Susan, though for once I wasn't attracted to her. I doubt I even thought of her in those terms, though if memory serves, she was good-looking.
Anyway, at this reception, I felt like letting my hair down for once and I danced a lot. I'm not sure, but I think I might have been slightly self-conscious about it beforehand, and I might have conveyed this to Howard and/or Susan, because weeks later, I got a card from Susan thanking me for coming, in which she specifically complimented my dancing. You can imagine how good that made me feel.
To be a great dancer was an occasional childhood fantasy of mine. Naturally, Michael Jackson was my inspiration. My pals and I vogued at our high school prom, but sadly, I don't recall any slow dancing I might have done with my girlfriend. Maybe I didn't know how; maybe I didn't wanna embarrass myself in front of the guys; I don't remember for sure, and I wish I could. I must have slow danced with her, though.
In college, I was into grunge, and that meant moshing, which doesn't involve any particular talent - just a certain ruggedness and a high threshold for pain. Surviving the pit at a Lollapalooza remains a favorite music-related memory.
|Astaire with frequent cinematic |
dance partner Ginger Rogers
I held my arms out, expecting to dance the way they do in the movies, with one arm around her waist and the other extended outward, holding her hand. To my surprise, though, she wrapped both her arms around me. I did the same to her and we didn't dance so much as move back and forth to the music. We didn't say anything. We didn't need to. When the song ended, we kissed. I'd have to say it was one of the most perfect moments in my entire life.
It's probably an old-fashioned fantasy to want to sweep a girl off her feet through dance - not John Travolta-in-Saturday Night Fever dancing, but with an orchestra playing, her in a fancy dress and me in a classy tux, the way Fred Astaire used to do. Of course, he was much more than a ballroom dancer; the man could also tap dance up a storm. I think most people, however, remember him best for those sensual, dreamy numbers he did with a variety of actresses throughout his spectacular career, especially in the ten films he made with Ginger Rogers.
In her book on marriage in the movies, I Do and I Don't, Jeanine Basinger talks about "love teams," a pairing of male and female actors over a course of different films that in the public's mind, linked the two romantically, on the screen if not in real life. Astaire and Rogers were one such team:
...Astaire and Rogers were the living metaphor of a perfect union, and they didn't have to play married to show it. Their swooning, yearning, swaying-like-two-chic-cobras romantic numbers spoke to audiences about desire, but also about a spectacularly balanced, perfectly beautiful physicality. Theirs was a marriage set to music, and their dance-floor coupling was real and romantic. (Fred and Ginger seldom kiss in their films. There's no need for it. Their sex life takes place when they have on their dancing shoes.)Before Ginger, though, and Rita and Cyd and Leslie and all the rest, Astaire's first dance partner was his sister Adele. As kids they had a dance act that took them from vaudeville to Broadway and London. When Adele got married, the partnership broke up, and though he found solo success on Broadway, and eventually Hollywood, he was understandably reluctant to pair up with someone else on a regular basis again. The success of Astaire and Rogers in their first movie together, Flying Down to Rio, changed his mind, and the rest is history.
While there are a number of actors today who can dance, and dance well, none of them have made a career of it the way Astaire did, partly because musicals aren't as popular as they once were, but also because Astaire was unique. He belongs to the Old Hollywood era, the one closely tied to vaudeville and Broadway; where the hunger for the kind of glamour associated with RKO and MGM musicals was at its peak. Still, if the continued success of Dancing With the Stars is any indication, we still crave a touch of that kind of glamour, exemplified by the dancing of Fred Astaire.
Next: Cecil B. DeMille
Movies with Fred Astaire:
Jack Lemmon Jean Arthur Edward G. Robinson
Rita Moreno Frank Capra Bernard Herrmann